Posts Tagged ‘attitude’

What Matters Most?

March 12, 2016

mopbucket  Imagine yourself in a business strategy course your senior year in college. Assume you had a “perfect” 4.0 average grade and were determined to keep it. With the final exam approaching, you’d likely spend many days and nights studying. You would probably memorize formulas or calculations, review notes, attend cram sessions and quiz study partners.

When the teacher hands out the final exam on a single piece of paper, you might be surprised. You might even be perplexed that it’s not far longer. And, what if both sides of that paper were entirely blank? Imagine once everyone has the paper, the professor says, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last few months, but the most important question is this: What’s the name of the person who cleans this building?”

Would you pass or fail the test?

Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger tells this story and it packs a memorable punch. It was the only college exam he ever failed. He says he got the B he deserved in that class but learned a lot. Over his years as a student, he had seen the janitor (Dottie) hundreds of times. He’d never taken the time for conversation or to ask her name.

The professor’s assessment sent a powerful message. What matters most says Bettinger, is that you never lose sight of the people who do the real work. His story is a terrific reminder about the perils of thin air. Be sure your altitude doesn’t affect your attitude.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her at: lwyattknowlton@gmail.com

 

 

Rebounds

February 17, 2016

baskball

An admired mentor recently shared what she called “career stumbles.” Over four decades two notable incidents stood out. Once she took a job that meant a terror-filled overnight experience hiding in a closet with a throat-slashed domestic violence victim. She left that new job fast. Another, when the CEO post she accepted came with a hostile predecessor that had an active interest in her failure and a different candidate. Although it wasn’t immediately evident, in both cases, she moved to a far better opportunity.

Daily, we all make mistakes. It’s likely you can quickly think of errors in your work or life. Perhaps, a misjudgment or misrepresentation that created an awkward sidestep? A misunderstanding that plagued a relationship? A transition that wasn’t smooth? A misspoken word? And, sometimes unfair or regrettable experiences happen to us. What action follows is critical: the rebound.

Consistent Action

NBA greats Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell had more than 20,000 rebounds during their playing careers. These were awesome defensive basketball players with powerful combinations of height, strength and effort. It meant, after a missed field goal or free throw, they consistently retrieved the ball. They had “hustle” on the court and were willing to do what some call “grunt work.” These players made huge contributions to their teams and were individual stars, too.

Willpower, discipline, positioning, timing, effort all matter a lot in making a rebound. Seventy percent of the time, the ball comes off the board or rim opposite the launched shot. Anticipation is vital.

A Bad Bounce

Just like off-the-court events, the toughest challenge can be when the ball makes an unpredictable bounce. Sometimes it is a surgery intended to “fix” that generates new problems, a decline from the graduate school you desperately wanted, a failed marriage, near bankruptcy, an unexpected death or unfair job loss. Regardless, each of us controls two things: our effort and attitude. Rebounds are essential to recovery and participation.

When a stumble, slip or error occurs (and it will), consider important encouragement from the influential Irish writer Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her via:lwyattknowlton@gmail.com.

Relatively Better

September 30, 2015

lemonlime

The conversation I had with a board member of a deeply influential organization some months ago was troubling.

In that exchange, he described behavior of senior management as incompetent. Later, he said “But all these organizations are a mess.”

No Worse Than Jones

Relativism is a common discard. You can set the bar anywhere you want. It’s possible to rationalize almost anything by noting those who are also behaving badly or worse. Read this list and add to it the relative comments you have heard:

  • Nope, the Catholic Church has not done right by women. But, look at the Muslims.
  • Yes, teen pregnancy rates are terrible in Michigan. But, look at New Mexico and Mississippi.
  • While cronyism is common, it’s nothing like financial fraud.
  • Football and basketball coach salaries may be excessive, but look at Wall Street.
  • Air pollution is awful in California, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Pakistan.

Insecure people and brittle organizations rush to defend. Regardless of goodwill and constructive capacity, when a critical remark is made, one can expect a counter punch. Unskilled  managers wear an over-sized winner’s ribbon with an inscription proclaiming: “Not the Worst!”

Context Warp

Compensation is a typical yardstick to underscore relativism. Almost everybody looks “up,” rarely down or sideways at money. A bonanza for one man becomes the standard for another’s excess. So when the former president of Yale received an “additional retirement benefit” of $8.5 million in 2013, Columbia’s annual presidential compensation of $3.4 million looked nearly paltry. Does anyone ever mention the context is warped?

Now and then, we hear some contrast. Noting the “best in class” can be inspiring and motivating. It can encourage a different attitude, e.g., why can’t we? If New Hampshire has the lowest teen pregnancy rate, then what’s going on there we might need to learn?

While defending territory can be a common reaction to critical comments, a far more useful response are great questions. A learning attitude and listening ears are important assets. They both have the potential to support improvement which delivers, in turn, results. In serving a planned vision, leaders set standards by word and actions. Everything is not relative. It’s vital to have expectations for what’s right and what’s wrong, not simply what’s better or worse.

 Less Evil

Certainly, acting less evil isn’t the same as being virtuous. Regardless of whether others make the effort, leaders offer a principled example. Recognizing this and pressing for accountability requires important perspective: some people call it leadership.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Play To Win

February 27, 2015

accountsign

“It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember I am the Pope.”

This comment by Pope John XXIII makes me chuckle. It also encourages personal growth.

In any organization, performance potential has a lot to do with accountability. It also has a lot to do with individual character and prevailing norms (or organization culture). Accountability is an attitude and it informs behaviors. Successful people and organizations are accountable.

A favorite author, Susan Scott, defines accountability as “a desire to take responsibility for results; a bias towards solution, action.” She writes it is “a personal, private nonnegotiable decision about how to live one’s life.”

In Fierce Leadership, Scott lists some signs accountability may be a challenge for you or your workplace.

  • People play to avoid loss.
  • Productivity and morale are poor.
  • Lack of clarity, lots of confusion, tunnel vision.
  • Nasty surprises and cultural frustration.
  • Bitterness toward coworkers, partners, and failed relationships.
  • Difficulty leading.
  • Rule-driven, dependency and justified victims.
  • Stalled strategies, initiatives, progress.

When people complain they want their organization to be authentic, focused, engaged, on the right issues…but explain it isn’t, then whatever “reason” is offered is an excuse. That person is articulating a belief and acting on it. They may signal earnestness and other manners of a gracious person but they are not a leader.

Accountability is a leadership attitude. It begins with individuals – regardless of title or position. It starts right now  with each of us. It’s not finger pointing at leadership because you are the leader. Leadership has a cost. It’s price is relative but always more than simple self interest. When people “hurt” their self interest to be accountable, you know someone is leading.

Scott points out a sophisticated and too-common version of finger pointing happens. People in “high places” often say, “I acknowledge mistakes were made here.” She says this technique is popular because the passive voice avoids accountability. The trite comment removes any actor. Mistakes are made by individuals – they don’t emerge from thin air. One of the important things about learning is the necessity of noting errors so they can be corrected.

So, this next week, skip the automatic responses like: run, hide, huddle and cover. That’s what animals do when fearful. Choose to build an essential habit. In effective organizations, accountability is a bedrock, pervasive value lived daily by every member.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


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